CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. officials said Friday that they had initially refused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro permission to fly over a segment of U.S. airspace on his way to China because his government made the request on short notice.
But Venezuela complained that the United States had also put up logistical obstacles to complicate its delegation's preparations for attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.
Washington issued its explanation on the overflight issue after Maduro and his foreign ministry complained vociferously Thursday evening.
Maduro announced via Twitter his departure for China late Thursday, but didn't say whether the commercial Cuban plane he was traveling in had altered its route.
The U.S. Embassy in Caracas said in a Friday statement that Venezuela had requested diplomatic clearance to fly over Puerto Rico en route to China with one day's notice. Such clearances usually require three days' notice, it said.
There was also confusion because the aircraft did not actually require diplomatic clearance because it was a commercial Cubana de Aviacion jet on loan, said the embassy's acting chief of mission, Gregory M. Adams.
He said that while he didn't have the details, his impression was that U.S. officials were "caught short" and initially denied overflight permission.
Venezuela's top diplomat in Washington, Calixto Ortega, said the U.S. had reversed itself following "intense conversations."
Ortega told state TV that the U.S. government had approved a similar overflight route for the same plane a few months ago without question and that Venezuela was concerned because Maduro planned to arrive in New York on the same plane on Sept. 24 or 25 for the U.N. General Assembly.
In its statement, the U.S Embassy said: "Although the request was not properly submitted, US authorities worked with Venezuelan officials at the Venezuelan embassy to resolve the issue. US authorities made an extraordinary effort to work with relevant authorities to grant overflight approval in a matter of hours."
"We advised Venezuela on the correct way to get the clearance, and as a result we were able to notify the Venezuelan authorities last night that permission was granted."
On Thursday afternoon, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua aired the first complaint, saying that prohibiting the flight amounted to an "aggression."
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